Author Topic: Help us become urban core dwellers-Advice sought (esp. from architects/planners)  (Read 1412 times)


  • Handlebar Stache
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This is not strictly a financial case study, although it certainly has a significant financial component.  We're hoping to pull the FIRE trigger in 2-3 years and have started investigating options for our primary residence in our desired post-ER location.  We're hoping to build or move close to the urban core, and  I'm interested in hearing from others who've personally done this or who -- by virtue of their profession as architects or planners -- have helped others make it a reality.

What you need to know about us:  When we RE I will be in my late 40s, my husband in his late 50s.  We do not have kids and are hoping to relocate to an area close to family, so we don't need a lot of overflow for overnight guests.  We are hoping to build the house that works for us over our lifespan, with less concern over resale or doing things to make it "attractive" for future owners.  We enjoy having our own space, including greenspace, but want to do it on a much more manageable scale.  We want to be within walking distance of groceries, the public library, public transport links, parks and trails.  We like university towns.

Resources:  We would like to construct a small (1500-1600) square foot, one-story home that is suitable for aging in place.  We will have about $450,000 to devote to this effort when the time comes and are building in an area where new construction costs about $220/foot plus land.  A 9000 square foot lot in a new sub-division goes for about $85,000.  (That is the only comparison I have because there isn't much land available.)  We are not interested in developing property for anyone other than ourselves, or speculating.  Although, we are willing to be "pioneers" with the resources we do have.

The "Why":  To date, we have lived in developed neighborhoods in homes we've contracted to build.  Such neighborhoods are particularly great for young families and the amenities and infrastructure are built with that in mind.  We have reflected a lot on our own values and have read with great interest that shows how the urban core can be a great destination for people with our concerns and values:

We are concerned that we will find a move to a housing development isolating at this non-working phase of our lives.  Yet, we are still active and want to be where more of the action is.  We want to have things to do, right outside our front door.  We want to be less car-dependent.

Finding the land:  This is the challenge.  The location we're looking at -- population 65,000 -- has little undeveloped and available land in the urban core.  We would need to try to identify infill lots, homeowners willing to sell, or consider tear-down and re-build possibilities.  The city does own some residential land that might be a possibility, and we have spoken to a couple city officials about it.  If they sell, we should probably know within the next year or so.

1 - What are our best options for finding land?  How do we do the research?
2 - What sort of assistance or information should we expect from the city planner's office?
3 - Is there a "toolkit" for people looking to do something like this?
4 - Are there other options we might want to consider -- like adaptive reuse of commercial property?  How do you go about getting property re-zoned?


  • Handlebar Stache
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Population of 65k and urban core don't really go together in my mind.

On the other hand, I can see a small city having existing housing stock of single story homes near the amenities you seek. Have you explored any of the older neighborhoods?


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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You may be able to find a property that owes back taxes or a foreclosure for sale/auction by the county/city.  You can ask where to find a list of available lots/properties and when the sales occur.  In my area, these are county sheriff sales.  You can also call local banks that may have bank owned properties, a regional bank in my area does this.

The planning office cannot recommend a specific vendor, but given permits are public record, they may provide names of builders that have done this type of infill work.  These companies/people might be able to provide some inside guidance/help on obtaining property, especially if you use them.  They may even have an upcoming project.

Most communities have property ownership records searchable online, or you can ask.  If you find a location/home that looks promising, you can search the address and contact the owner directly.  Some communities require vacant properties to register with them (this is in an effort to encourage properties to not remain vacant = fees), if your desired community does – then they can provide you a list.

You can ask about rezoning commercial property, but I’ll tell you, for one residential property – that would likely be a pain in neck and not successful.  University towns of this size that I am imagining usually have pretty solid zoning in place and the master plans created that support them/the reasoning.  Your request would need to relate to the plan.

Instead, one thing you could ask your planning office is if there are any “nonconforming” commercial uses in residential zoned areas.  These are properties that recently or currently are functioning as a business, but over the years, the zoning has been applied/changed to residential making the use of the property “legal nonconforming.”  Planners (and neighbors) really want these things to go away, so you obtaining it/making it a conforming residential use would be music to their ears.  For example, it could be the random/stand alone neighborhood bar or body shop that has turned into a public nuisance over time. 


  • Handlebar Stache
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Also baffled by "urban core" vs "university town".  Is this a neighborhood in a big city that used to be a separate town and is still called such, or is really a university town surrounded by non-urban land (farms, forested hills without houses, etc)? 

I grew up in a university town. It was 3 miles across, surrounded by farmland, rivers, national parks.  The lots within half a mile of city hall and the old train station were generally built out.  I have trouble imagining these prices there, though.

Some people preparing to move get really good advice by asking about specific locations.  Any chance you would identify the town in question?